Wassily (pronounced [vas-uh-lee) Kandinsky is hailed as being the father of the pure abstraction movement in the early 20th century. Abstract art uses shapes, lines, forms, colors, and textures, but it does not represent reality in any way.


A Unique Beginning

Kandinsky was born in Moscow, Russia on December 4, 1866, to a wealthy tea merchant. His mother was an avid musician. His interests were unlike most other children. While other children practiced their spelling, Kandinsky wrote poems and sketched. While other boys played ball, he played his violin - and became an accomplished musician by the age of nine. 


The "Hissing" Paintbox 

When his parents divorced, Kandinsky moved in with his aunt, who was an artist herself. She believed that every proper Russian boy should appreciate art, so she gave him a paint box and arranged for proper art lessons. When she showed him how to mix colors, Kandinsky insisted he heard a distinct "hissing sound" coming from the box. As he stirred and swished his brush, the swirling colors sounded like an orchestra tuning up in his mind. His aunt dismissed this experience as foolishness, but Kandinsky persisted. He said the yellow paint sounded like a trilling trumpet, but the blue paint had a happy and lilting quality, like that of a flute. When he focused on dark blue paint, he heard the calming vibrations of a Cello, and the deepest, darkest, blue sounded distinctly like a church organ. His early artistic works as a boy show his intimate experience with color; they reveal rather specific color combinations, influenced by this musical perception. In his journal, he later said, "…each color lives by its own mysterious life."


Kandinsky the Law Student

Although Kandinsky was very interested in art, he followed his family's wishes by studying economics and law at the University of Moscow between 1886 and 1892. During his studies, he joined an academic team formed to study the economic and spiritual conditions present in Vologda, a district in northwestern Russia. He was deeply impressed by their folk art and the village houses interior decorations. Although his trip to Vologda greatly affected Kandinsky in terms of his artistic interest and spiritual awareness, he had not yet felt the call to be a painter… Instead, he married Anna Chimiakina and accepted a position on the university's law faculty in 1893.


Life-Changing Events

It looked as though Kandinsky would become a successful lawyer, but two events caused him to make an abrupt change to his career path in 1896. The first event took place in Moscow the previous year. While Kandinsky visited an exhibit of French impressionists, he came upon Claude Monet's painting Haystacks at Giverny; it was his first experience with non-representational art. Kandinsky was fascinated by Monet's lack of details. "Why did he not finish it?" He thought. "Why are there not any details? You can barely tell that it is a haystack." Kandinsky was agitated by the fact that this piece was so different than all the other realistic paintings that were common at that time; as impressionism was in its infancy and was not yet in vogue. The second event occurred when Kandinsky heard Wagner's composition Lohengrin while at the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia. He later described his experience in his journal this way: "While they performed the music, I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me." That same year, at the age of thirty, he left his successful law job to become a full-time art student. He began at a prestigious private painting school but only stayed there a short time and quickly moved on to the Munich Academy of Arts. His wife Anna, devastated by his career change, divorced him later that same year. 


Friends at the Academy

Kandinsky started as any first-year student would, with the study of traditional themes and forms, but most of his education was self-directed. He was deeply devoted to spiritual study and developed artistic theories linking music, color, with his spiritual studies. Color became more of an expression of emotion, rather than a depiction of realistic subject matter. He became friends with many like-minded artists and moved in with Gabriele Münter shortly after meeting her. Kandinski and his friends formed a group called "The Blue Rider." (For Kandinsky, the color blue was the color for spirituality.) Although the artistic aims and approaches varied from artist to artist within the group, they did share a common desire to express spiritual truths through their art. They all believed in the connection between music and art and approached painting in a spontaneous, intuitive way. In 1911 Kandinski wrote a book entitled, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art." His group was successful, but, and Kandinski was forced to move back to Russia due to his Russian citizenship.


Kandinski the Teacher

Once was back in Russia, Kandinski embraced the constructivist movement, which is based on dots and geometry. When he was 50 years old, Kandinski met and married, Nina Andreevskaya, the 30-year old daughter of a Russian General. Sadly, their only child, a son, died before his third birthday. Restless and wanting to work, Kandinski used his energy to teach government-run art programs. He helped create Moscow's Institute for Artistic Culture and the Museum of Pictorial Culture. Kandinski eventually was able to return to Germany and become a German citizen. He was invited to teach at the Bauhaus school in Berlin, where he also wrote plays and poems. In 1933 Nazis seized power and shut down the Bauhaus. Adolph Hitler deemed all modern and abstract art to be "degenerate" art, and although Kandinski was a legal German citizen, he was forced to leave the country and return to Russia. In July of 1937 paintings of Kandinski and other artists were placed in the "Degenerate Art Exhibition" in Munich for the sole purpose of defacing their artworks. The Nazis confiscated Fifty-seven of Kandinski's works. 


Kandinski's Death

Kandinski and Nina moved to Paris in the late 1930s. They fled in 1940 when the Germans invaded France. He eventually ended up in Neuilly, France; a suburb of Paris, where he lived a secluded life until his death in 1944. He died of cerebrovascular disease on December 13. At the time of his death, Kandinski's paintings were still considered to be controversial by many although he had earned some loyal supporters who continued to exhibit his work until his death. 


Kandinski's Legacy

Most of the work Kandinski produced in Russia was destroyed, although many of the paintings he made in Germany still exist today. His vivid interpretations of music in art coupled with his theories regarding the connection between the spiritual realm and the artistic realm altered the artistic landscape for the modern age and has earned him the ultimate status as the "Father of Abstract Art."


Online Resources:

*In this YouTube video link you can watch Kandinski himself creating one of his famous “abstract” paintings using ink. 


*YouTube is such a wonderful way to learn about so many subjects. Mati and Dada make learning about Kandinski and his life so much fun! 


*Once you have a grasp on what Abstract art is and you are ready to create your own masterpiece in Kandinski fashion the follwing link will inspire you using commonly found objects in your home and a pen!